- Associated Press - Sunday, November 1, 2020

PERU, Ind. (AP) - Most people use gourds for fall decorations or crafting. Not Ron Luginbill.

Give the 72-year-old Peru resident a gourd, and a few weeks later, he’ll have turned it into an exquisitely crafted, perfectly playable ukulele.

Over the last two years, Luginbill has turned his small woodshop behind his house on the south side of Peru into a kind of scientific lab to develop new techniques and styles to build the instruments.

Pieces of gourd lay on shelves with different kinds of paint and finish on them to see what looks best. Others have been sanded down to different thicknesses to discover what creates the best sound.

Luginbill, who retired from a 38-year career teaching elementary classes at Maconaquah School Corporation, said testing and experimenting is really the only way to do what he does, considering there aren’t many people out there making gourd ukuleles who could teach him.

“I’m not a professional,” he said. “I’m still learning and experimenting.”

Even so, his gourd instruments have started hitting the market. Two handcrafted ukuleles are now for sale at a music store in Nashville, Indiana. He’s in the process of making five more that he hopes to sell at other shops.

It’s an impressive step for his budding business, considering Luginbill never built an instrument in his life until he started making gourd ukuleles two years ago. He said he’s always dabbled in woodworking and crafting, but nothing like this.

And the inspiration for his new undertaking came from one of the most unlikely of places: a Goodwill store.

Luginbill said he came across a chintzy, poorly made gourd ukulele on the thrift store’s online shopping website, and decided to buy it. Something about the instrument struck a chord, and he was hit with a flash of inspiration.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to try it,’” Luginbill said.

By that time, he’d been playing uke for about six years. Luginbill bought his first ukulele in Hawaii in 2013 after driving past a shop packed with different varieties of the instruments.

He got his first lesson the next day in the hotel lobby after stumbling across a native Hawaiian teaching a class to a group of students. After striking up a conversation, Luginbill got a free one-hour lesson on his newly purchased ukulele.

And it was love at first strum.

But picking up the instrument wasn’t particularly hard for Luginbill. He’d been playing guitar since he was in high school and teaching it since 1993.

Over the years, he started collecting different high-end ukuleles, and also started offering lessons on top of his guitar classes. But it wasn’t until buying the gourd ukulele from the Goodwill website that he decided to make one himself.

Luginbill purchased the first gourds for his first instruments from a vendor in Fulton County. He cut them open, hollowed them out, and started experimenting with how to turn them into a ukulele.

He ended up buying the neck and fret boards for the instruments, but the top face cover he made from a piece of rosebud wood he found in the yard right outside his workshop. The gourds he’s using now to make his new batch of instruments come from a farm near Brookston.

So far, he’s made two gourd ukuleles, both of which are on sale at Weed Patch Music in Nashville, which also sells his handcrafted instrument straps he makes from materials he finds laying about.

Luginbill has also started using that found-object approach to making ukuleles. He’s made one of the instruments from a wooden bowl he found, of course, at Goodwill. That ukulele is also being sold at the same store in Nashville.

He has other bowls he hopes to use for his instruments, as well as a plastic lamp shade. On top of that, he’s build one traditional-looking ukulele that now hangs in a room in his woodshop that plays as well as any instrument someone could buy at a music store.

“The cool thing about making them this way is that they’re all different,” Luginbill said.

Building ukuleles might be a new undertaking for him, but tinkering and tampering aren’t. For most of his life, he’s experimented with different projects, like making coasters from old LPs. He also stays busy playing music and performing with his wife, Sarah, a painter who owns an art gallery in downtown Peru.

He said he has so many ideas and projects he wants to try in his retirement that he’s not sure if he’ll ever get to them all. But building gourd ukes – that’s something he’s going to stick with for a while.

“I’m not kidding you, I’ve had a blast doing this,” Luginbill said. “I just want to learn and try something new.”


Source: Kokomo Tribune

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